The General Assembly & Accountability for International Crimes

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
February 27, 2017

Further to Alex Whiting’s post on Russian objections to the U.N. General Assembly’s formation of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011 (IIIM), it is worth noting that the General Assembly has played a role in prior accountability efforts since its inception after World War II.

One of its first activities in this regard came with Resolution 3 (Feb. 13, 1946), which calls on states to cooperate in the capture and extradition of those war criminals who were still at large and were “evad[ing] justice in the territories of certain States.” In particular, the Assembly recommended that both U.N. member and non-member states:

take all the necessary measures to cause the arrest of those war criminals who have been responsible for or have taken a consenting part in the above crimes, and to cause them to be sent back to the countries in which their abominable deeds were done, in order that they may be judged and punished according to the laws of those countries…

Later that same year, it affirmed the principles of international law recognized by the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and its Judgment in Resolution 95 (Dec. 11, 1946) and directed the codification of those principles “as a matter of primary importance” as part of a broader effort to codify all offenses against the peace and security of mankind or in an International Criminal Code.  In its next resolution on the same day, the Assembly affirmed that genocide was a punishable crime under international law and requested the Economic and Social Council to draft the treaty that eventually became the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The General Assembly remained concerned about the capture and punishment of individuals accused of committing international crimes (see, e.g., Resolutions 2583, 2712, 2840). In 1973, Resolution 3074, entitled Principles of Int’l Co-Operation in the Detection, Arrest, Extradition & Punishment of Persons Guilty of War Crimes & Crimes Against Humanity, called again for international cooperation in the detection, arrest, extradition, and punishment of persons accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  The principles pronounced include the following:

  • War crimes and crimes against humanity, wherever they are committed, shall be subject to investigation and the persons against whom there is evidence that they have committed such crimes shall be subject to tracing, arrest, trial and, if found guilty, to punishment.
  • States shall cooperate with each other on a bilateral and multilateral basis with a view to halting and preventing war crimes and crimes against humanity, and shall take the domestic and international measures necessary for that purpose.
  • States shall co-operate with each other in the collection of information and evidence which would help to bring to trial persons against whom there is evidence that they have committed international crimes.
  • States shall not take any legislative or other measures which may be prejudicial to the international obligations they have assumed in regard to the detection, arrest, extradition and punishment of persons guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Read the full post at Just Security